Mr BARTON (Eastern Metropolitan) (12:20): My question today is for Minister Pulford, representing the Minister for Public Transport. I ask the minister to please clarify the government’s commitment to provide better wheelchair access transport to the disabled in regional Victoria. The commercial passenger vehicle regulator’s website states that:
“This Scheme reflects the regulator’s ongoing commitment to expand and maintain the accessibility of wheelchair-access vehicle services in urban, regional and country Victoria. The Scheme subsidises the purchase costs of a wheelchair access vehicle to make it a similar cost to a conventional unbooked service (taxi).”
I was recently contacted by a Wodonga service keen to expand its wheelchair fleet to meet a growing demand in its area. However, after going through the application process they discovered that despite the information on the regulator’s website, the subsidy is only available to replace existing services, not for expansion. My question is: will the minister reconsider and extend the subsidy to allow existing taxi operators to expand their fleet of new dedicated wheelchair access vehicles in regional Victoria?
Ms PULFORD (Western Victoria—Minister for Roads, Minister for Road Safety and the TAC, Minister for Fishing and Boating) (12:21): I thank Mr Barton for his question and for his interest in the needs of many people in the community and particularly those in regional Victoria, in this instance, accessing commercial passenger transport vehicles. This is important. It was certainly something that we were very mindful of as the legislation was debated at great length through the Parliament in the previous term, and it is a reform that has been challenging for many in the community. I know it is something that Mr Barton has great knowledge and passion about and will be very interested to work with the government on.
This question is to my colleague Minister Horne, and I will seek a written response from the minister, but if I could just indicate to the house that the number of wheelchair accessible vehicles has significantly increased in Victoria since the commercial passenger vehicle reforms. This is, we believe, in part due to reducing the price of licences and removing some of those barriers to entry for new operators.
The Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle Subsidy Scheme is operating successfully in assisting regional operators to replace—as you indicated in your question—aging wheelchair-accessible vehicles. There are no plans at the moment to expand the subsidy, but I would indicate that we are very open to working with Mr Barton and others in the industry to improve and increase wheelchair-accessible vehicles in regional Victoria. It is not an uncommon experience that whilst you might have a statewide response to a particular measure, there might be thinner markets in some regional communities. That is something our government always takes very seriously and would seek to be responsive to. I will seek a further and more detailed response from Minister Horne for the member.
Mr BARTON (Eastern Metropolitan) (12:23): Thank you, Minister. I want to stress the importance that these vehicles meet the highest safety standards and that they are operated by professional drivers. They need commercial passenger insurance, to be permanently branded, to have tamper-proof cameras and fixed meters and meet the requirement of holding an annual roadworthy certificate. They are transporting some of our most vulnerable citizens, and I would not support cowboys in vans riding into town. Can the minister assure the public they will maintain the high level of safety in the multipurpose taxi program which is supplied by the taxi industry to ensure we provide the best services to our most vulnerable?
Ms PULFORD (Western Victoria—Minister for Roads, Minister for Road Safety and the TAC, Minister for Fishing and Boating) (12:23): I can certainly confirm that we do not want cowboys in vans, that that will not be the approach that the government is taking and that the safety of commercial passenger vehicle users is of the highest priority for our government. I note absolutely and agree that our responsibility is perhaps even higher for people who are particularly vulnerable. But, that said, we want a very high safety standard for everyone, recognising that it occurs in a slightly different context for people perhaps with mobility issues or other challenges.
We are committed to ensuring strict safety standards, and we will work with industry and with advocacy groups to ensure that any changes will be consistent with this objective. Again, I will invite perhaps some further comments and context from Minister Horne in her written response.